Latest Reviews

Entries in George Clooney (3)

Thursday
Oct032013

Gravity

Space is a beautiful thing. It’s quiet, serene and you simply can’t beat the view. But it’s also a dangerous place, where the slightest mistake could mean the end of a life. The smallest tear in a suit, a forgotten about harness or even the sudden appearance of unexpected space debris could be catastrophic. It’s the latter situation our characters find themselves dealing with in Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity.” While out on an otherwise calm spacewalk, Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) receive news from Houston that debris from a destroyed satellite is heading their way. They’re ordered to abandon the mission, but it’s too late. The debris crashes into their ship, destroying it and leaving them floating out in space, with virtually zero hope of survival.

That’s the grim set-up of “Gravity,” a movie so intense you’re likely to have heart palpitations. As I watched them float around helplessly, with nothing surrounding them but the dark vacuum of space and spacesuits that were quickly running out of air, I realized I had been taking my wonderful inhalations of oxygen for granted my entire life. Never before had I been so happy to have my feet planted squarely on the ground. For the first time ever while sitting in a dark theater, I realized how lucky I was to be alive, to be sitting in a safe, comfortable area surrounded by friends and not dealing with the nightmare onscreen. Forget monsters and boogeymen. Space is more terrifying than them all.

The things you’ll see in this movie, from the soundless explosions to the faster-than-a-speeding-bullet debris to the harrowing space leaps where the odds of survival are about one in a million, are a sight to behold. As things get more stressful and increasingly hopeless, your heart will be pounding so fast, you’ll question the strength of your bosom and hope it can contain it from escaping like a chestburster from “Alien.” These moments are flawless and offer up some of the most frightening beauty you’re likely to ever see.

The problem is that it doesn’t follow through on its bleak premise. While I certainly won’t give it away, it takes a single plot device, one used by countless other movies that have no clue how to give their protagonist the motivation to go on, and manages to turn itself from a wholly gripping movie into something that is, quite frankly, kind of silly. You could argue that the circumstances that are playing out add validity to what finally occurs, but such an argument is grasping at straws. It’s understandable to want to defend a movie this incredible, but that doesn’t mean it’s incapable of stumbling. If “Gravity” proves anything, it’s that even the most calculated, well thought out movies can make stupid decisions. Luckily, one stupid decision doesn’t equate to a bad movie. Quite the contrary, “Gravity” is spectacular, a thoughtful and well-rounded action-esque movie that separates itself from a sea of vapid, nonsensical explosion-fests.

Where it lacks the thematic intricacies of other science fiction films like “2001: A Space Odyssey,” it makes up for with pure visual terror. And that terror, that feeling of utter despair, is brought forth beautifully by the talented duo onscreen. Sandra Bullock won an Oscar in 2010 for her portrayal of the no-nonsense protagonist in the based-on-a-true-story hit, “The Blind Side,” despite being the weakest of all contenders in the Best Actress category. It was a stupefying decision to even give her a nomination, much less a win. She may not have deserved it there, but she certainly does here. Unlike the other popular disaster-in-space movie, “Apollo 13,” this doesn’t flash back and forth from the characters in danger to the workers on the ground trying to help them out. It never leaves the black emptiness that is space, which gives the film a focus and allows Bullock to flex her acting muscle like she never has before. She is absolutely fantastic here. This time, the buzz is warranted.

“Gravity” had the potential to be the absolute best movie of the year and, just perhaps, one of the most visually stunning and intense science fiction films of all time. It truly is that good, but that lazy cinematic plot ploy reared its ugly head to bump it down a notch or two. But dropping from a “best of the year” or “best of all time” movie to one that can still be classified as jaw-dropping and emotionally draining (in a good way) is hardly a bad thing. Even if you too have similar issues with the plot turn in question, it will hardly cross your mind when you medidate on the film  later. You’ll instead think about the gorgeous visuals, the many, many sequences of utter fright and the career defining performances. “Gravity” may have failed to be the absolute best movie of the year, but it’s still one of.

Gravity receives 4.5/5

Friday
Oct072011

The Ides of March

Political thrillers and political dramas are separated by a very fine line. Even slight changes in things like pacing and lighting can make what would otherwise be a straight forward film become edgier and darker. The two can be mixed together, and often have to great success, but some movies don’t make that conscious decision. Some movies can’t make up their mind on what their ultimate goal is and end up suffering because of it. George Clooney’s latest directorial effort, The Ides of March, is a perfect example of that.

Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) is a man whose life revolves around politics. He has worked, as he puts it, on more campaigns at the young age of 30 than most of his elders. His latest job comes in the form of Democratic GOP candidate, Mike Morris (George Clooney). Governor Morris is the first person he has ever truly believed would change the way we do things and make a difference in people’s lives. He’s an optimist and trusts those around him, but he’s about to get a lesson in dirty politics when he gets caught up in a media firestorm after meeting with Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), the assistant to the Governor’s GOP opponent, and his simple life begins to unravel.

There’s a fundamental problem with The Ides of March. It thinks it’s penetrating politics when, in reality, it’s doing and saying nothing that the American people aren’t already aware of. It shows that politicians and those working for them begin with a set of unwavering ideals they promise to hold true before compromising them once they see the true face of politics. They quickly realize that politicking is a dirty game and, if they ever hope to get ahead, they must do things their young, naïve selves thought they never would.

As such, The Ides of March is political piffle, a movie that aims for the Oscars, but, aside from some possible acting nods, lands much lower. It’s a shame because Clooney has proven himself to be a fantastic storyteller with 2005’s Good Night and Good Luck, another politically charged (but media oriented) film that had much more to say than this. As terrific as he is behind the camera and in front, I’m afraid this will end up being little more than a blip on his impressive career.

Still, this is a solid film. A disappointment, sure, but solid. It’s entertaining, relatable to today and serves as yet another vehicle for Ryan Gosling who once again proves himself to be one of the most prolific and versatile actors currently working, but it’s inconsistent. In a way, it’s too cinematic, taking a story that should be told in a straight, dramatic fashion and over stylizing it with contextually inappropriate filmic techniques. Political backstabbing is treated like murder, leading the characters to secretly meet each other in closed down, darkened bars where eerie, silhouetted figures loom in the hall. The media is treated like a peeping tom stalker, the villain in a horror movie, and paranoia begins to eat away at the characters, bringing them to make decisions that lead to the oft heard and obvious political message. Simply put, the film has an identity crisis. It never settles for one tone and doesn’t do a good job of cohering multiple ones.

George Clooney, an outspoken Democrat, sometimes seems to treat this movie more as a cathartic outlet to speak in favor of gay marriage and taxing the wealthy than as a story. As an outspoken Democrat myself, I’d be lying if said I didn’t agree, but as a critic, it’s hard not to question his intentions, especially when the majority of the scenes he appears in are at speeches where he defends his left wing beliefs. Nevertheless, these moments fit comfortably into the story, so they aren’t so much scandalous as they are simply obvious. But that’s the entire movie’s problem. It’s just too obvious. Only those without knowledge of past political scandals or what goes on behind the scenes of a political campaign will find something enlightening. For the rest of us, The Ides of March is watchable, but underwhelming.

The Ides of March receives 3/5

Thursday
Sep022010

The American

There are lots of words and phrases that can describe a movie about an assassin. Violent. Action packed. Visceral. Crazy. But with The American, words like calm and peaceful come to mind. Rather than the action movie the misleading trailers suggest, The American is a quiet look into the pathos of an assassin who, despite his lifestyle, has powerful feelings and emotions that conflict with his duties.

George Clooney plays the assassin named Jack. After an assassination attempt on his life that may or may not have been set up by his girlfriend in Sweden, he relocates to Italy, on the run from the Swedes and in hiding. But while there he takes on a job from Mathilde (Thekla Reuten), who asks him to build a rapid fire gun that can be aimed with deadly accuracy from a long distance.

As simple as it sounds, that is the main story in The American, but that perception of the film is deceiving. Jack is a multi-layered character that lives in a world where anyone and everyone can be, and most likely is, an enemy. He is always on the watch, careful, calculated and soft spoken, but he feels like any other human being. He is lonely and longs for companionship. He creates a friendship with the local priest Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli), despite being told not to. He visits a brothel at night to satisfy his physical needs with Clara (Violante Placido), whom he eventually sparks a real romance with, though he knows he shouldn’t. His lifestyle forces him to hide in the shadows, secluded in an empty apartment by himself, but that doesn’t suit him. He wants to really live and takes many chances knowing full well that the consequence of death could await him.

What he has done in the past is never explained, nor is the reason the Swedes want him dead, but The American isn’t about that. It exists in the moment and tells you just enough so you can watch without confusion and director Anton Corbijn does a masterful job of keeping it tight and focused. With such a beautiful and assured look, you’d think we’d be dealing with a seasoned pro, yet Corbijn has mostly worked on music videos known for their loud, off-the-wall feeling, but thankfully dials it down here with a tranquil, slow, thinking man’s movie.

At times, you could even call The American poetic, with a final shot as beautiful and meaningful as any I’ve seen this year. Mentioning why would be misunderstood by those who haven’t seen the movie, but the butterfly motif and all that it stands for speaks so much about Jack that it isn’t until this closing moment that you truly feel like you know him.

And that’s a good thing. Clooney keeps the character emotionally mysterious. He never smiles, he rarely talks and he admirably balances the feelings of fear and paranoia with alienation and loneliness. Many have stated that Clooney comes off as curiously cold in this role, not showcasing his abilities as an actor as he has in the past, but it seems to me that those people mistake his acting for the overall quality of the movie. Is this as good as Michael Clayton or Up in the Air? No, but it’s no fault of Clooney. He is fantastic here and the reason he comes off as less lively is because his character calls for him to. Without him, The American would be, like Jack himself, in search of a soul.

The American receives 4.5/5